Radha Stirling, founder of Detained in Doha, an organisation who assists those who face injustice in Qatar, issued a statement on the detention of Australian nationals who have been held without charge since July. Stirling, who founded Detained in Dubai in 2008 and the Gulf in Justice Podcast, also represents another Australian, Joseph Sarlak, who has been held in the country.
“In an effort to beat the Saudi led blockade, Qatar has aggressively invested into lobbying, business enterprise and media influence. The country has attracted a growing number of foreign nationals, and many Westerners who previously worked in Dubai, are now seeing Doha as a viable alternative.
“We receive many calls from individuals who have previously encountered issues in Dubai that might prevent or deter them from returning. They want to check whether Qatar could be a lucrative alternative, but we have a growing concern for human rights abuses in the country.
“Qatar was a country that had the opportunity to lead the Middle East in the area of human rights. They had been commended by Human Rights Watch and other organisations for some apparent improvements to migrant workers rights and there are provisions in the law in relation to bounced cheques that allows for courts to consider the circumstances that led to the cheque bouncing, rather than automatically jailing the author. But not enough has been done to address the pressing issue of abuses against foreigners, and it is this lack of attention that will permanently stain Qatar and affect its international standing.
“It was all well and good to criticise Saudi and the UAE for human rights abuses, the criminalisation and persecution of businessmen, tourists and investors, but that should have given Qatar enough foresight to ensure they didn’t go down the same path. Rather than that, noticing these abuses may have even inspired the island nation to increase 'rogueness', and a reckless approach to foreign investors and visitors. They likely saw the UAE “getting away with it”, and thought they could too, but this is not a successful attitude and not one that will propel the country forward in commerce, trade, investment and development, and certainly not with public image or tourism.
“We don’t see those essential improvements for migrant workers that were assured to us when granted FIFA 2022. Instead, we receive calls from desperate Indian workers who have been essentially enslaved, threatened, and beaten by their employers.
“And as far as Westerners are concerned, there is absolutely no regard for Australian, British or American citizens. Qatar has also displayed a lack of an inclination to assist foreign diplomats. Journalists who call Qatar’s Ambassador to Australia are ignored, as are human rights organisations and Senators. Qatar has become accustomed to criticism from its Arab neighbours and is used to ignoring or countering any negative PR that comes their way. But ignoring criticism of human rights abuses against Western citizens, will almost certainly have consequences. Australians, Europeans and Americans will be apprehensive to visit a backwards sounding, dangerous country who sexually abused innocent women flying through the country.
“They will be apprehensive to invest in a country that has held Australian national Joseph Sarlak for more than six years, Ranald Crook and Jonathan Nash. Who will want to risk a business partnership with a Qatari national who can lock them up and abuse them for almost a decade, without even a shred of evidence of wrongdoing? Many of these cases against foreign investors are initiated by Qatari VIP’s and members of the ruling family.
“If they want to lock someone up, steal their money, their business or make false claims that millions are owed to them for a made up reason, they can. The judicial system is owned by an authoritarian regime who has complete and utter control.
“Then, do we want to look at women’s rights? Women have rights, until a man wants to abuse them. The family law courts are a disaster and women often have to resort to public social media video pleadings for help. We only have to again refer to the Qantas passengers who were sexually abused, to know how the country treats women overall. Princess Latifa, when escaping Dubai via yacht with Captain Hervé Jaubert, did not consider Qatar an option for refuge in spite of the blockade. She told me “we are all related, I think they would send me back”.
“Over the past two years, we have dealt with a massive escalation in abuses from Qatar. Perhaps the UAE’s actions in its unlawful attack of a US yacht in international waters and kidnapping of Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum and a US citizen, has emboldened Qatar. The Saudi regime’s extraterritorial execution of Khashoggi, a maritime attack in international waters and the exposure of the UAE’s kidnapping of another Dubai princess from British soil is only the tip of the iceberg. US nationals have litigated for death threats and torture cases have been settled out of court.
“What Qatar has seen from its former allies and their impunity from consequences will no doubt have been noticed. It’s almost a green light to commit human rights abuses, torture, wrongful imprisonments, rampant theft of investor funds and businesses and completely ignore foreign diplomats.
“Qatar has increased its investment into international bodies like Interpol, to give it reach and power beyond its own borders. With millions of dollars in Interpol investment, Qatar decided to frivolously issue red notices against people who should never have been listed on the database. A good example of th at is the recent case against Conor Howard, a Scottish man who was arrested in Greece for having carried an herb grinder from Australia through Qatar to Scotland a year earlier. What an absolutely ridiculous case. Qatar had already let him leave the country, having exonerated him of any potential charges against him.
“Qatar has gone wild with its issuance of red notices, using them to extort funds from people, waiting for them to be arrested abroad. We’ve had emergency calls from people arrested everywhere from Spain to Ukraine. They’re told the notice will be removed if they pay a certain amount of money. Often, these requests are coming from apparently reputable Qatar banks but often, there is no money actually owed. They are just manipulating their alliance with Interpol to turn the crime organisation into a cash cow. This is a huge problem and Qatar is one of Interpol’s biggest abusers, yet we are still doing business with them. Interpol is still cooperating with them, and they still want to attract visitors for FIFA 2022.
“Now Qatar has arrested two Australian nationals, no doubt under national security laws that allow them to hold them indefinitely, without explanation and without accountability. The UAE has done the same with its own nationals. Ahmed Mansoor was jailed, interrogated and tortured over his inclinations toward a more democratic government. Matthew Hedges, another academic, was held under national security laws. with allegations that he was a British spy. He to, has spoken of his torture and human rights violations while in UAE captivity. We even had two British tourists, who were held for four months because they shared a passion for ‘plane spotting’.
“National security laws in the Middle East are dangerous, exploitative and plain frightening. Any foreign national can be arrested for almost any reason and almost everyone who is detained, complains of human rights violations and torture. “Journalists, academics and dissidents are at great risk of wrongful detention and the slightest suspicion will be sufficient to warrant arrest. The two men have previously visited Qatar’s enemy, Saudi Arabia, and this alone, could have been enough to have caused the arrest.
“The Australian government has had every opportunity to secure the release of Joe Sarlak, who has been unfairly held in the country for six years. In this case, the evidence fully exonerates him and this alone, should mean an easily diplomatic solution could be reached. But they’ve been disgracefully absent. Foreign minister Marise Payne, hasn’t responded to a single call for action and the Ambassador has been reluctant to get involved at all. It seems they are eyeing off the possibilities of increased commercial partnerships without considering that these efforts will continue to be jeopardised by their inaction and inability to protect their citizens from abuses.
“So, how will the Australians go when it comes to a national security detention, with allegations of abuse and torture? Will they also sit on their hands? Australia, the UK and Qatar, needs to realise that if they want their relationship to grow, they need their citizens to be respected. We are not talking about the arrests of hardened criminals here. We are talking about tourists, expats and investors who are being jailed without cause, without evidence and without due process.
“It’s pretty simple actually. We’ve worked with most foreign governments to help secure the release of their innocent citizens. If a government is saying ‘it’s not possible’ or ‘it has to go through the law courts’, we only need to look to Malaysia. Their Foreign Minister turned up in person in the UAE and just a few days later, their citizen was released.
“You can’t tell me Malaysia can do it, but we can’t. Then, I only need to remind Australia of their intervention in the cases of Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee in the UAE a few years back and most recently, assisting in Iran. Australia is not limp, injured or weak. They just want you to feel that way to lighten their load and enjoy a happier, business focussed relationship with Qatar, at your expense though.
“We call on the Australian Foreign Minister and the Ambassador to build a path forward with Qatar, to pave the way for better relations, to ensure that human rights violations and judicial abuses, don’t ruin what could be a productive alliance. Qatar continues to commit grave human rights violations against Australians, and our government needs to ensure they know we will not tolerate it. In the interim, every effort must be made to warn Australians of the risks of transiting through the country”.
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Founder & CEO at Detained in Dubai